Green, frugal, sustainable, simple, healthy, happy... No matter what we each call it, we come together here to support and learn from each other.
We are preserving our planet with our lifestyles. We are creating sustainable communities for our children. We are living the lives we want to live. Please join us!
All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!
Back in January, I wrote about this year becoming a Year About Me, making sure that I have what I need in my life and that I follow my own dreams. These are the things many people have thought about in their 40th year, no doubt.
At mid-career, with many skills built up, a family and a home, the question lingers: have you done everything you want to do? And if the answer is no, then get on it already!
Right at the beginning of the retreat, I checked my email for the last time before unplugging for the week. There was an email from a man I’d met and worked for on a small video shoot a year ago: he had just begun producing a documentary and he wondered if I’d be interested in working on it with him. I told him I would get back to him in a week, and promptly unplugged.
At the conference, surrounded by media makers of all kinds, my next career steps swiftly crystalized for me: I have a unique gift in being able to communicate stories in a wide variety of media. I have, in various ways over the years, used that talent to create positive behavior change in others. I have been working for a very long time toward accruing these talents and skills, and at long last I am ready to take my work to the next level!
Transformation happened in those woods, and I freed myself to do what I needed to do.
At the end of the week breathing in the beauty, I’d realized I was ready to move from my high-paying corporate anchor client back to the work I really set out to do in my life. I’d learned, I’d paid some of my loans, and it was time to move on.
It has been scary, but also comforting – like finding my way home.
When I got back home, I was re-energized. Like I was 25 again, excited at the possibilities and convicted in my dreams.
I worked hard to finish my website, to visualize my vision, to jump into the next phase. I started talking about my work with other people more, no longer bashful about it. Somehow the “what I do” conversation became so much easier.
Two days later I called the man with the documentary. We talked for 4 hours.
It turns out Jon has been on a similar journey, trying to figure out how to create sustainable change in the world. By the end of our 4 hours, we were discussing how to bring large environmental organizations together to empower them to do their work more efficiently and effectively. We were discussing how to incentivize businesses to operate more sustainably through community storytelling. And we dove deeply into how to take people beyond awareness of climate change, and help them get to the next stage: how do we help people change their lifestyles? What tools and guidance can we offer to make that transition easier and more effective?
We had our first day of shooting the documentary last week. It required Jon and I to be one on one together for 23 hours. We took each of those amazing topics and discussed them at two levels deeper. And so it goes…
A few months ago, my husband and I created a video for Countywide Community Forums. It’s a program that brings policy makers and citizens together to talk about local issues – a really fabulous idea, don’t you think??
We’re creating another film now – I can’t wait to tell you about it. But in the meantime, I wanted to share the video we created about how local governments are suffering during the Recession – and how we all suffer as a result.
Most of these issues are not specific to our county, or our state. Most of these issues are not even particular to our country during the Recession.
I believe that community building is one of the most important elements of sustainable living. There are a number of reasons for it: when we live locally and strengthen our communities, we become stronger and better able to adapt to changes in the economy, climate, and energy availability.
When we become a part of our communities, we have a better capacity for creating change within it: making people aware of important issues and ideas, sharing resources, learning from one another, change local policies, working together to solve problems, and feeling useful, helpful, and a part of a greater good.
Each community is unique and has its own needs, whether it is public transportation, sustainable food resources, strengthening local businesses, reducing carbon emissions, increasing recycling and reducing waste, building community gardens and parks… the list is varied and lengthy. We can only learn and become part of the solutions if we become an active member of our communities.
So this weekend, I want to challenge each and every one of us to do this: all you have to do is say hello to five strangers. That’s it!
Because in the last several decades we have grown cold and disparate as a culture. We don’t say hello to strangers anymore, we don’t participate in local events as much anymore, our children don’t play out in the streets together anymore, we hesitate to help one another because we don’t have time anymore.
But have you walked down the street lately, and had a stranger say hello? It feels good and brings you two people together for a moment.
Generally that feeling lasts a few seconds, maybe a few minutes, occasionally a few hours or if it’s really special, the whole day. The next thing you know, you are spreading that feeling of closeness to others – maybe you say hello to someone too! And that person may then stop into a local store and find themselves chatting with a local shop owner. And the shop owner, feeling close to his customers, may find a way to give back to the community in some way. And those who are touched by the shop owner’s giving back are more likely to give time, help, or conversations to someone else.
Your simple “hello” has changed the dynamic of the neighborhood, creating a positive cycle where more and more people become closer to one another.
It takes time, but it also starts somewhere. So let’s start somewhere simple. This weekend, let’s each of us come out of our shells and Say Hello To Five Strangers.
Will You Do It??!
I’m going to do it too, and we’ll all check in on MondayTuesday* and see how we’ve done. Shall we? Let me know in the comments! Come on, you can do it – I know it!
Recently I received an email from Nicole with a very interesting question:
How do you come to terms with the fact that so many people in the world don’t seem to want to become educated about how their actions affect their world? For example, I am learning a lot about our food system lately and I really want my friends to become educated about it, too. I feel like if they just KNEW where their food was really coming from, they would make healthier and more environmentally-sound decisions. But I don’t want to see preachy or holier-than-thou. Another example: I have two friends who just don’t recycle. I can’t wrap my head around it. They CAN recycle in their neighborhoods, they just don’t. Again, I want to call them out on it, but I just don’t know how to do it without seeming judgmental – even though I AM!
This is something I think about a lot actually. I think about it when writing this blog, I think about it when I’m doing work for my clients, I think about it when I walk through the streets on my daily walk, … yes, I think about it a lot!
But on a very practical level, how do we get our friends to care and to join us?
Nine Ways To Get Your Friends To Care
Here are a few ways that have worked for me.
1. Think About Your Friend and What They Want. What is a good entry point for them? Would the entry point be finding a healthy home for their kids? Or maybe food, knitting, reading (book group?), shopping (antiquing or thrift store shopping or a clothing swap?), gardening? Find an entry point that will draw them in.
2. Meet Them Where They Are. You are likely at point c or even z, while your friend might be at point a. So help them simply get to b first. Make it easy, cheaper, tastier, more fun.
3. Never Use the Word “Should” or “Can’t”- your friend needs to WANT to change their lifestyle, otherwise it won’t work and won’t stick. In the same way that you wouldn’t change if you felt you were being judged, neither will your friends. Despite how much our friends can be frustrating, being judgmental or condescending just doesn’t work to changes anyone’s mind.
4. Remember Your Own Mindset When You Began Thinking About Change. What did you experience? Like me, you probably weren’t told something, but rather you experienced a moment when something happened, something clicked. Somehow it hit HOME for you, and applied to you on a personal level in a way that it never had before. So what were the steps that led you there? How can you recreate that whole experience for your friend?
5. Just Be Friends and Appeal to Your Friendship - ask your friend to accompany you to the farmers market or help you pick out a dress at the thrift store or make an organic cake for your little one. Something similar to what you would normally do, with just a little tweak to let them slowly into your new world. You might even ask them to help you, because this is something you’re really interested in.
6. Be Patient. It takes time and we are all different with different learning curves and needs and wants. We all take two steps forward and one step back as well, so know that just as you are not perfect, you friend is not perfect either. The best thing you can do, though, is stumble through this ebb and flow together. So let them in when they are ready.
7. Make It Fun. Particularly while the world is in Recession and Recovery, nobody wants to hear that the world is dying, or they are going to die, or anything of the sort. Right now, whether we like it or not, the world needs some fun. So make going green fun! Try new things together, with your kids, and in a positive and forward-looking way. Look to the future and see how your lives will change, how your changes will make an impact. Strive toward that point, and continuously redefine normal in a positive way.
8. Show Them How Excited You Are. Good friends will be excited about things that make you happy, healthy, and excited about life. Sometimes all you can do is make your own changes, and let others look on until they find something they find useful or interesting or exciting, and begin to pick it up. This is a tactic that has worked very well within my own family, for instance, where my mother and sister began learning from what I was doing, and started trying it themselves. It happened very organically, and now they make changes on their own and at their own pace.
9. Keep On Truckin. Some people are in such a different place in their life, their work, and their very being that there is nothing you can say or do that will change their minds. That’s ok. They may come around sometime, or they may never come around. One of the things that is so important to me is to focus on helping those who are already beginning to convert their lifestyles. There is a lot of merit in that, and a lot of merit in just doing what you do and doing it well. We all need to learn to be ok with being the first, being the loudest, and being the furthest. And you’ll be surprised at who just might catch up with you when you least expect it!
You know your friend better than most people do, so pick a tactic that makes the most sense given your unique relationship. Don’t give up on your friends. Friendships lift us up when we are down, friendships move us, shake us, and support us, and we need them. If you are not finding support for your lifestyle within your current friends, you might consider finding like-minded people who can support you. Check out Finding Or Forming A Local Group for ways to do that.
What Has Worked For You?
Please share your success stories!
(A version of this article is cross-posted at the Co-op)
About two years ago, Matt and I were living in Geyserville, CA, population 1,600. He was working full time, and I was basically taking some time off from a taxing several years working long hours in the LA film industry.
When we moved there, we planned to stick around for the rest of our lives, living the simple life: growing and preparing our own food, using very little electricity and water, learning to live as self-sufficiently as possible. I eventually planned to learn to knit, sew clothing, can and preserve all the food we’d need for the winter, build a root cellar, and even install a micro-hydro-electric power unit and a composting toilet.
I learned a LOT. I had a crash course in gardening with our 2,000+ square foot garden. I almost became a master gardener (before I became fed up with the pro-pesticide stance they take), I preserved, Matt taught me how to bake bread using our own homemade Geyserville starter (and I did it every day), I was thinking about making my own soap and making my own just about everything else.
But then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Right around the time I rushed Raisin to the animal hospital as she sat in my lap dying from pesticides, Matt became fed up with his life of driving long distances to a low-wage job that required significant manual labor. And quite honestly, I realized I wasn’t cut out for the full-time job of homemaking. I had so many ambitions for my life that I no longer had time for. I wanted to make big positive change in the world, and working an 18-hour job at home, I didn’t have time for much else.
For several important reasons, our lifestyle was not sustainable. It was wonderfully fulfilling in some ways – both Matt and I were much healthier, we had time to re-think our life directions, I took up writing and found I loved it, and the flavors of home-grown, home-made cooking were out of this world.
But we were dependent on driving long distances, we were unable to economically make ends meet due to low-wage jobs in the country and the rising price of gas, and we weren’t happy with the long-term trajectory of living a lifestyle that focuses solely on living simply. (Those of us who have tried it know that living simply is not so simple!)
The Sustainable Life
So we took the amazing things we learned, and we moved to the most sustainable neighborhood in the most sustainably-minded city we could find (we did a lot of research). And over the past year and a half since we moved here, I can tell you that one major, major thing that is left out of much sustainable or simple living books and blogs and ideas is this: COMMUNITY.
What can community do for you? Well, cities and towns were built for a reason: to exchange goods and services. Why make and do EVERYTHING yourself, when you can focus on what you’re good at, and trade what you’re good at for other things you’re not so good at? Why spend hours and hours making my own clothes when someone who does it for a living can do it much more efficiently in both time and money? Or soap, or jam, or many, many things?
Using Community To Find Your Balance
I’m not saying cease simple living altogether. It depends on your motivation. My motivation is living as sustainably as I can, and getting others to do the same. Well, sustainable living and simple living are not necessarily the same thing!
So that means I let other people make my food for me sometimes. I don’t let just anyone make and grow my food – I am careful about who I pick, where they source their food, how they treat their employees, what their values are, etc.
But not all the time – I still grow some of our own food. Why? Because I like it, because there are more flavors and nutrients in the food I grow myself, because it is more sustainable than trucking in produce, and because gardening makes me happy and brings me a sense of peace. I also like writing about gardening, and enjoy talking and writing with other gardeners.
So somewhere in there, my family is learning how to balance simple living with an overall sustainable lifestyle where we can still have ambitions to do stuff beyond our home life.
What does that mean? I live about a mile and a half from work, and I walk to and from work every day. That takes about an hour round-trip. I save money on gas and parking (or public transit), I have a zero-carbon footprint commute, and I don’t need to go to the gym. All in all, it takes me less time and money to walk than it would take me to use the car or the bus, and go work out in a gym.
That’s just one example of several. I don’t grow all of our own food anymore – I buy food from local growers and vendors whom I trust; I buy soap from a local organic soap company; I buy used clothing from local thrift stores; I live in an energy-efficient apartment so I am warmer but still don’t need to turn on the heat much (increased quality of life!). I do make my own shampoo and household cleaners, because it’s cheaper and easier than looking for a local green brand that works.
And I suppose that is the question Matt and I ask ourselves now: can we do it ourselves cheaper, more easily, and more sustainably (in terms of the planet)? If the answer is yes, we welcome it with open arms. If the answer is no, we generally find a sustainable local source and pay that person to do it.
This is one of the main ways that our community helps us live sustainably.
So back to our question…
Does Living Sustainably Have To Take More Time?
No. I believe it’s possible to find a balance between simple and sustainable, where you can simplify your life as much as you enjoy doing so, and utilize your community to help continue on your path to sustainability.
What Do You Think?
I’m not alone in thinking about these things today. Green Bean got me thinking about this this morning, and Ruchi wrote quite a thought-provoking post called “Is Living Sustainably Unsustainable.” What do you think? Have you been able to find a balance between living sustainably and living the life you want to live?
Hi everyone. Hope you’re having a lovely start of the week, and that my “feeling sluggish” post helped a bit!
I just received an email asking for thoughts about going technology free at school. I think it’s a FABULOUS idea, and thought you all might have some great suggestions for this young reader:
I am currently trying to organize an technology free day event here on my school, it would be a festival where we have fun with friends and family field day events and reading and storytelling. i was wondering if you had any ideas about games i can play or just ideas in general.
Please don’t be shy – I’m sure everything you suggest will be helpful!!!!
As many of you know, I’ve been thinking about creating a forum here at One Green Generation. Unfortunately, I am already trying to do too many things at the moment – some of you pointed out how much work maintaining a forum can be, and I agree. So, I think I may have found a solution…
Yesterday I spent several hours creating a Facebook Page for One Green Generation. There, we can each post photographs, recipes, questions, ideas, and even local meetups. If you have an event you’d like to let everyone know about, you can post a link there. If you have a new resource with fabulous information, you can post a discussion about it. And if you have a burning question, please ask there!
I am thinking of the Facebook page as an extension of our discussions here – a place where we can allow our sustainability ideas to move into our personal lives just a bit, and use one another as better resources for finding information and learning new things.
So please come be a fan, and help create our Facebook community! Don’t be shy – post questions today if you have time. Let’s get the ball rolling on starting this new space!
Thanks so much for reading everyone. I welcome your thoughts and suggestions about this blog and it’s new extension at Facebook. See you in both places!